Friday, May 29, 2015

Making a Bet

This picture gives you a good idea about Castner's unusual motion

Columbia football has often recruited players that most people would consider "projects." That is, players who had senior year injuries or have some kind of quirk in their resume that shooed away the big programs who had been interested or kept them away from the start.

RB Lucas Faria is one of those players, as a hamstring injury senior year dropped his recruiting stock. But based on how he played in the New Jersey state championships, I think taking a bet on Faria is a very solid choice.

Another bet for Columbia is QB Kyle Castner. In this fascinating article in USA Today, the author makes an impassioned case for Castner despite his unusual passing motion. I've looked at tapes of Castner play, and he indeed has a strange motion where he holds the football out high above his head and seems to hold it there for a split second before flinging it downfield. No one disputes that this is an odd piece of mechanics, and you can see how holding the football out there overexposed like that could make a coach very nervous.

But Castner's stats and winning record are eye-opening too. And for me, the tie-breaker is his speed. He can really run and it looks like he's not afraid to take a hit to get the crucial yards. He reminds me of Sean Brackett '13 in that way.

So again, I think this was a good bet for Columbia to take. And I also trust this new coaching staff to develop these project-like players a lot better than any staff we've had before. And as an incoming freshman, Castner has the luxury of waiting for the Lion offensive line to improve and protect that overexposed football that comes with his throwing motion.

But one word of caution: Dartmouth was very gaga over getting a QB named Cole Marcoux a few years ago when he was a high school All American. Then in training camp it was noted that he had a funky throwing motion too. He never played in more than one game as a varsity QB for the Green, but he did contribute as a TE his senior year. Of course Marcoux was coming out of Riverdale Country Day School in the Bronx, where he played against a much lower level of competition than Castner did at the highest level of Indiana HS football.

Harvard Swipe? 

Incoming Kicker Chris Alleyne may have had an earlier offer to him rescinded by Harvard, or perhaps he changed his mind and switched to Columbia.

This article from last year identifies Alleyne as a Harvard commit.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Documented Hope

Incoming DB, (but WAIT, he might be a WR), John Riley McLaughlin is featured in his hometown paper along with the great pic below.

Like I wrote in a comment yesterday, we will hear about more position changes for the incoming freshmen in the coming weeks.

Lucas Faria

Another great article about an incoming Lion is this one about Lucas Faria, who could really be a game-changing RB for the Lions.

Faria is now starring for his HS lacrosse team, but he also spent much of his senior year coaching his 7th grader brother's basketball team.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The New Lions

Columbia Football has officially released the names of the 25 freshmen and transfers who will join the team for 2015.

There are a couple of new names on the list that we did not 100% know about, but no one I named on my last unofficial update on March 31 dropped off.

I'll have a light more to say about all these newcomers over the long summer, but there are a couple of incoming players who stand out, based on where the Ivy League is right now.

A big QB who can throw, run, and break tackles is a gem in any conference, but after what we saw from Bill Ragone at Penn for so many years, we know that kind of QB in the Ivies can win championships, (and Ragone really wasn't a very consistent passer). Florida transfer Skyler Mornhinweg has the tools to be that kind of a QB, but he's going to have to show he has the heart and desire to really lead this team. He also presents tremendous upside, because if he plays well the news media will definitely give Columbia some great positive recruiting attention because of his family football dad.

Another QB who we know can run is Ryan Suitt, who the previous coaching staff was excited about when he committed. Kyle Castner is the pure passing specialist who could thrive over time if Columbia improves its offensive line. Danny Hong from powerhouse HS Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas also seems very motivated to play.

There are seven QB's on the roster right now, but remember that Head Coach Al Bagnoli almost always used a second QB in every game during his time at Penn. My guess is he and Offensive Coordinator Mike Faragalli will be looking for two QB's with different weapons to confuse opposing defenses and keep things fresh.

RB Lucas Faria from nearby Sparta, NJ High School is a pretty good quality RB for any Ivy team to grab during this RB drought in the league. He may not become All Ivy, but he looks promising in body and spirit. Every team desperately needs running help, especially Columbia.

The other rarity in this league are big defensive tackles who can dominate the line. At 6-3 and 290 pounds, Cole McDonough could be one of those guys.

WR Brandon Krcilek comes from a part of Arizona that's become fertile recruiting ground for Ivy teams. He has a chance to make an immediate impact.

A very promising LB is Jason Vravrick from Lincolnshire, Illinois. If his height and weight stats are legit, he'll be a noticeable difference on the field. The other LB to watch is also from Illinois. Cal Falkenhayn comes from Loyola High School in Wilmette, which has consistently sent Columbia outstanding players from Des Werthman '93 to Paul Delaney '14. 

The other two transfers, Jackson Conway and Christian Conway from Bronxville via Duke, grew up just a short trip from Wien Stadium and they may have something to prove after Yale rescinded their offers when Tony Reno took over the staff. Jackson is the RB in this tandem, so keep a special eye on him.

Again, this is just the first quick look at the incoming class. More analysis and a complete updating of my LionFeeders high school recruiting database will be rolling in over the coming days.

UPDATE: The LionFeeders database is now updated to include these 25 newcomers and their high schools.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Compelling Pitch

Mark Fabish

The new Columbia coaching staff has just completed its first national recruiting tour. I feel confident in saying that the high school coaches and parents are seeing something very different than what Columbia’s recruiters have offered before: skin in the game.

By that I mean we have assistant coaches who truly know the Ivy League better than the Columbia recruiters of the past. Some know the league as former Ivy players, others know the league as accomplished assistant coaches, and some know it as both former Ivy players and long-time assistant coaches. I also mean they have a compelling case to make for Columbia on a very personal level.

For example, Associate Head Coach/Wide Receivers Coach Mark Fabish can tell prospective recruits, their parents and their coaches that he believes in Columbia and Head Coach Al Bagnoli so much that he left his job with his alma mater Penn to be a part of this program. Secondary Coach Jon Poppe can say he left the Ivy League’s most dominant program at Harvard to be a part of the Lions because he believes in this quest. Tight Ends Coach Joe D’Orazio can say he left a good young career in the NFL for a chance to work with Bagnoli and his abilities to change things at Columbia.

There are more names and scenarios to add to the above list, but these guys are impressive because they aren’t asking prospective players to make a bigger commitment than these recruiters already have.

I believe the Lions will be better this fall  regardless, but the real test of the Bagnoli era is what he and his staff are able to bring in for the 2016 and 2017 freshmen classes. And the hard work to pass that test is really underway. There’s no nice way to say the team needs a lot more talent, but there it is. And it’s also true that Columbia has endured many losing seasons even with a good deal of talent on the field, (think 2009 for example). But there’s no more important factor in winning than talent on the field. And as well as Bagnoli has managed things on game days and as many wins and championships he’s squeezed out of the not-most-talented teams, the  recruiting battles are really the key to winning no matter what college football team you’re talking about.

And so it’s time to be confident about the future because not only does Columbia now have recruiters with a great track record, but they should come off even more effectively than they did in the past now that they have that compelling personal “buy-in” story to tell about this program. When I buy a car from a salesman, I want to know that he owns the same car too. In essence, these recruiters don’t just have one “Columbia car,” they have two. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

BREAKING: Roster Updated

The football roster, with a significant number of players who were not on the team last year, has now been updated.

We knew about just about all the returning players, but the confirmation of promising guys like Brandon Blackshear coming back is encouraging.

The position changes are also illuminating.

Spend the long weekend pondering if you will.

Now I expect the official list of incoming freshmen and transfers to be ready very soon.

Penn’s Players

Ray Priore has a talented crew to begin his tenure

My brief overview of the other Ivy teams’ incoming recruits continues today with a look at the now Al Bagnoli-less Penn Quakers.

Overall, this looks like a very good class. It may not have more standout stars than other Ivies right now, but so many of the players in the class appear to be just below that standout level.

That said, here are the players that seemed to be just a cut above:

At 250, DL Kevin Cadigan may end up being more of that kind of hybrid linebacker/lineman new head coach Ray Priore loved to use so much during his long tenure as Penn’s defensive coordinator. Either way, the Quakers must be happy to snatch this all state player from right under Brown’s nose. Another LB/DL hybrid candidate who could make a big impact in Priore’s system is Brody Graham from Jackson, NJ.

A more traditional DT is Cooper Gardner who could become a real force against the run.

It’s a running back-poor league in the Ivies, but Penn may have more than one very good back in this class. The first is a Niko France, who played as an option QB in high school. The other is Jay Cammon. Columbia was very close to getting him, but he chose the Quakers.

Penn has had good luck with players from Long Island’s St. Anthony’s HS, and OL Tommy Dennis looks like he’s a good bet. Long Island football has become very spotty since the 1980’s, but not St. A’s.

Finally, I think WR Christian Pearson has a lot of potential to be an impact receiver. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Canadian Upgrade

How good is the quality in Ivy League football? Look at this story that broke yesterday about how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers gave up their 1st round pick in next year’s CFL draft just so they could pick Dartmouth’s Garret Waggoner in yesterday’s supplemental draft. That’s a big investment, and it’s probably justified.

For the record, Waggoner was not really a factor in Dartmouth’s easy wins over the Lions in 2014 and 2013. But in the last minute Big Green win at Wien Stadium in 2012, he was the leading tackler with 10 total stops and one pass breakup.

In the pass-happy, three-down CFL, good defensive backs are more important than they are in the NFL. That was why Columbia’s standout safety Tad Crawford ’07 was drafted by the CFL and played up there for five seasons.

If you hate waiting for football over the summer, remember that the CFL regular season kicks off on June 25th.

Bo Hines

Looking at the New Yalies

Here are the members of the announced Yale freshmen/newcomer football class that caught my eye:

We all know that WR Bo Hines is transferring in from N.C. State. This guy is the real deal.

But 290-pound DT Daniel James from Baton Rouge could end up being an even bigger impact player over the long haul. Joining James on the D-line is DE Bronson Krull who was an all state player in Ohio.

A 6-6 linebacker is bound to catch your attention and Yale has one of those now that J. Hunter Roman is on the way. Roman was a 2-time 1st team all stater in Connecticut.

DE Peter Firestone has the size and experience to fit in well in New Haven.

And in our league that has gone from suffering a dearth of top running backs to now suffering a dearth of any running backs at all, RB Kyle Ellerson from Bergen Catholic looks like he has a chance to make a good impact in the Ivies. He’s a speed runner who can get to the outside.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bonus Baseball!

The Columbia baseball team, 1914

The 3-time defending Ivy champion Columbia Baseball team has added a home double header to the schedule as the Lions prepare for next week's NCAA Regional playoffs.

The Patriot League champ Lehigh Mountain Hawks will be the opponents as they also need a little tune up before they head to their regional.

This is a great chance for fans to see the team in a relaxed setting. I also expect just about everyone to get some chance to play.

Columbia will learn who and where it's playing in the regionals when that info is announced on Memorial Day. The first regional round game will be on Thursday May 28th.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Take on the New Cantabs

For some reason, Harvard’s incoming freshmen class seems a bit underwhelming at first glance. One reason could be that the official announcement may not actually doesn’t include all the committed recruits, like Elgin Davis who made big news in Florida last month when he chose Harvard over a scholarship offer from Georgia Tech. But I’m not even sure Davis is one of the better newcomers for the Crimson.

But a little deeper digging shows that Harvard and Tim Murphy are bringing in yet another bumper crop of great players.  Here are some who stand out to me right now:

Harvard has been a real QB factory for more than 15 years now and that’s why I like QB Tom Stewart from Dallas, TX. He’s an all-state player with a good arm and a lot of mobility and speed. And the other QB in the class, 6-6 Cam Tripp from North Carolina isn’t as fast as Stewart but he’s equally mobile. It’s a really good bet that one of these two guys will be 1st Team All Ivy someday.

RB Charlie Booker from Cypress Ranch HS in Texas looks like he has better speed than most Ivy recruits and he’s coming from a high-level high school conference. WR/RB Christian Houston has some similar qualities and I can see him being a demon coming out of the backfield on screen passes. WR Alex LaPolice has a name you can’t forget and he could get his name in a lot of scoring summaries before he’s through. He’s an all state player from Connecticut.

OL Matt Jones hails from the same serious football high school in Georgia that brought RB Marcorus Garrett to the Lions.

Dan Werner is listed as a TE, but this kid with a lot of talent and football pedigree could be the next great Crimson H-back.

I could mention a few more names but seven players seems about enough for any team, even a perennial champ like Harvard.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Still In Season

The students may have left campus, (University-wide graduation is this coming Wednesday, with individual school ceremonies already underway), but there are lots of quick updates on football and Columbia sports in general to get to as we begin the week.

Baseball Still in Focus

The 3-time defending Ivy baseball champs still have a week to go before they learn their opponents in the NCAA regionals. But Head Coach Brett Boretti was interviewed on WFAN sports radio here in New York yesterday morning. It was a great interview that included the info that the Lions will try to play some games against Patriot League champ Lehigh soon in order to stay fresh before those regionals begin on May 28th.

For those of you wondering about the Major League prospects for some of the Lions who graduated this past week, the MLB 2015 Draft is June 8-10.

New Field, New Look

They're still in what looks like an early stage of replacing the field turf at Wien Stadium/Kraft Field. I'd bet the design will be different that the two-tone green/no midfield art look we've had since 2005. But don't bet on a Boise State-style unconventional color either.

Another big reveal coming this summer is the new uniform design some of the assistant coaches have already been Tweeting excitedly about lately. Based on what Head Coach Al Bagnoli said at his introductory news conference, we should expect to see a lot less light blue in these new duds. And based on the last time Columbia changed its uniforms, (back in 2013), I would expect to see the new unis revealed sometime in July.

As for the official announcement of the freshmen/newcomers for this fall, I wouldn't expect anything before June. But I could be wrong. And I also still don't care how long it takes this year to get this news out because it seems like the longer we wait, the more new names get added to what was a too-small list of about 21 or 22 players before the Bagnoli staff came in.

Coaches on the Road   

Speaking of recruiting, the football coaches are spread out across the country on recruiting trips right now and it's fun and informative to follow their travels on their Twitter accounts.

I have been told that the coaches are also willing to hear about any recruiting leads via email. Of course they cannot guarantee any offers, but I feel confident any names you send them will get a real look.

Spears Moves Up

Connor Spears, the tight end who left Columbia last year to walk on at USC, seems closer to actually getting the starting spot for the Trojans at that position.

That's because the top TE on the USC depth chart, Bryce Dixon, has left the school. And it appears some of the other tight ends currently on the Trojan roster are having other troubles. Meanwhile, Spears has done well in spring practice, etc.

It was one thing to see DE Seyi Adebayo spurn his final year of Ivy eligibility last season at Columbia and end up making an impact for Boston College. But if Spears makes strides for the huge program that USC truly is, it will be really tough for Lions fans to see. Hopefully, Columbia will get an impact tight end of our own this fall and everyone can be happy.

Brown's Standouts

Last week, I identified a handful of incoming Princeton freshmen who particularly caught my eye.

Today, I want to look at a few of the incoming players for Phil Estes at Brown who seem to be a cut above.

QB Nicholas Duncan, a St. Louis-area player who did a PG year at Lawrenceville, has everything but height. He's only listed at an even 6-feet, which means he may be closer to 5-10. But he put up big numbers at the John Burroughs School which has fed great players to the Ivies, especially Brown and Columbia, in the past. I don't necessarily expect Duncan to play as a freshmen or a sophomore, but Estes has a great track record of developing QB's just like him.

Another St. Louis find is 1st team all state WR Westerband Lindor. He may need some time to develop, but he could be the next in a long line of dangerous Brown receivers.

Speaking of 1st teamers, when you get a 1st team player from Ohio, I take notice. And DL Grant Varner from Grandview Heights, OH could be a force on the outside.

Hometown hero Thomas Chase is a 6-3 linebacker from Providence who cracked the all state team his senior year. This is a kid who should feel comfortable right away at Brown and certainly knows what he's getting into.

An even better LB might be Isiah Thompkins from Middleton, CT. He has great size also at 6-3 and 235 pounds.

I've always wondered why more of the nations top kickers don't end up in the Ivies, but Ryan Kopec, coming to Brown from Georgia, seems like as good as it gets coming in.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Worth Waiting For

The sun is rising over L.A. and for Columbia Football

Usually at this time of year, we're all clamoring for the official release of the incoming freshmen/new comer football class and the post-spring practice updating of the roster.

But as recent news has shown us, enough things are still possibly in motion that we shouldn't rush things before we get a clearer picture of what the 2015 team will actually look like.

For one thing, QB Skyler Mornhinweg may not be the only transfer. Second, there still could be some discussion about the coaches on where to position all the players on the roster right now.

And finally, this new staff has been so upfront and so welcoming so far, that they've already deserved a healthy bit of slack.

Speaking of being welcoming, everyone who was at the Columbia football event in Los Angeles last night tells me that the turnout and enthusiasm was very strong for Athletic Director Peter Pilling and Head Coach Al Bagnoli at the welcome event hosted by Marcellus Wiley '97.

Where Does Skyler Fit?

Some initial thoughts on the Mornhinweg transfer..

Anyone who has watched Penn football closely over the last 5-6 years can attest to the huge impact former QB Billy Ragone had on the program.

And one would have to be blind not to notice that Mornhinweg has many of the same physical attributes and QB skills as Ragone.

The very big question is whether Mornhinweg has Ragone's competitive heart. Because if he comes very close, this coaching staff will know how to turn that into wins.

The Other Guys

Meanwhile, the other Ivy schools are all starting to officially list their incoming freshmen players. In the coming weeks, I'll take a look at a few players on each list that stand out to me.

I'll start with Princeton:

I think the Tigers have picked up two potential dominant players and two other potential All-Ivy caliber guys.

The first stand out is the QB Keaton Dunsford from Cardinal Newman HS in California's wine country. Dunsford is further seasoned by a PG year at Exeter.

The other new Tiger to jump out at me is WR Jesper Horstead from Minnesota. This 6-4, 200-pound young man is also going to play baseball for Princeton if all goes as planned.

Two other playes to watch are both linebackers, Edward Rudinski from Oaks Christian School in Thousand Oaks, CA and Jackson Simcox from Westfield, NJ.

A dark horse is DL Jake Strain from Philly's St. Joseph's prep. If this were another year from now, Strain may have chosen Columbia as our coaches are making great inroads at St. Joe's.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

BREAKING: Mornhinweg Transfers to Columbia UPDATED

Former Florida Gator QB Skyler Mornhinweg has transferred to Columbia according to Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain.

News of this had been buzzing under the radar for about a month after Mornhinweg was spotted attending a Columbia spring practice.

Mornhinweg is the son of former NFL Head Coach and recent Jet Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Marty had a friendship with Lions Head Coach Al Bagnoli when he was in the Eagle organization and that played a big role in this move.

Mornhinweg was a much sought-after recruit out of Philly's St. Joseph's High School. He originally verbally committed to Penn State but signed on with the Gators in early 2012. He had also given a verbal commit to Jim Harbaugh at Stanford two years earlier, but that was nullified when Harbaugh went to the 49ers.

At Columbia, Mornhinweg may be able to reprise his high school role as a dual-threat QB who was big enough to give would-be tacklers a problem.

At the very least, this proves that Bagnoli is still able to attract top name transfers. There may be more to come.

Charlie Bettinelli 1974-2015

The 1996 Columbia football team is well known as the most successful individual squad in just about every Lion fan's lifetime. But it wasn't really the eight wins that made that '96 team special, it was the way they won close game after close game and really punched above their weight in almost every way.

Sure, that team had two superstars in future NFL All Pro Defensive End Marcellus Wiley and perennial All Ivy Linebacker Rory Wilfork, but the rest of the team were not Ivy household names.

Two of the players who were quiet leaders of the team were OL Randy Murff and DE Charlie Bettinelli. And by some tragic twist of fate that is just almost too unfair to fathom, both of them have now passed away.

I've written a lot about Murff, who was the team captain, a number of times on this blog and the old blog. His absence has been a painful reality for his former teammates and fans for almost 15 years.

But Bettinelli had remained an overlooked key component to that '96 team and I regret that it's taken his sudden death, just made public yesterday, to bring his contributions to light. But I will try to do them, and him, some justice.

Bettinelli was a serious presence in the locker room, and the other players used him as a role model. He helped them see how to conduct themselves as players in practice and on game day. Then it turned out that Charlie was one of the best students in his class, period. And so many of his teammates sought out and got his help on their assignments and he always made time for his fellow players in need.

None of that should overshadow Betinnelli's contributions on the field. His career highlights include a key sack and a forced fumble in the later stages of the huge 1995 win over Penn and a monster game against St. Mary's in 1995. His final game for the Light Blue was also noteworthy, as he and the rest of the defensive line held off Brown for a 31-27 win.

But his best game ever was against Fordham in week 2 of 1996, when it seemed like he single-handedly beat the Rams in heart-stopping fashion. Trailing 10-7 late in the 1st half, Bettinelli snagged an interception and made it a pick six to give the Lions the lead. When the game was over, he also had two fumble recoveries and a big sack to preserve the 17-10 win.

After Columbia, Betinelli held several impressive jobs, mostly in the tech sector.

The family has opened a 529 college savings plan for Charlie's son Nicolas in Charlie's memory. You can donate to it by making checks payable to Fidelity Investments, (FBO Nicolas Bettinelli A/C 618916783) and send to P.O. Box 770001 Cincinnati, OH 45277.

Fidelity Investments (FBO Nicolas Bettinelli, A/C 618916783) at P.O. Box 770001, Cincinnati, OH 45277. - See more at:
Make checks payable to Fidelity Investments (FBO Nicolas Bettinelli, A/C 618916783) at P.O. Box 770001, Cincinnati, OH 45277. - See more at:
Make checks payable to Fidelity Investments (FBO Nicolas Bettinelli, A/C 618916783) at P.O. Box 770001, Cincinnati, OH 45277. - See more at:

Monday, May 11, 2015

More than just a Consolation Prize

The Three-Peat

With a football team that hasn't won a championship in 54 years and a basketball team on a 47-year drought, one can only expect Columbia fans to see the very successful baseball program as a needed counterbalance to the failures elsewhere. 

But I want to make the point that this team is so much more than that. Even if Columbia were home to perennial powers in football and hoops, this 3-time defending Ivy Baseball championship team would be worth very special recognition. 

The last two seasons especially have been a testament to a team that just never gave up and found a way to win. 

In 2014, the Lions came into Gehrig Division play well behind 1st place Penn. But Columbia pulled even just before the season-ending series with the Quakers before splitting that series and eventually winning the one-game divisional playoff in Philadelphia. 

This year, Columbia has won four straight must-win games to win the championship again. First the Lions had to win the final game of the home-and-home series with Penn at Penn to force the playoff. Columbia won that game 8-6 in 10 innings. Then Columbia had to win that playoff, which the Lions did 4-2 at home. Then Columbia had to win Game 2 of the ILCS vs. Dartmouth as the official "road team," which they did 7-2. And finally Columbia had to win the last game of the ILCS yesterday, which they did 10-7 as Coach Brett Boretti had to cobble together a make-shift group of relievers to get through 9 innings against Dartmouth. 

This team is just an incredible combination of great talent and great coaching. I know this is the group that wants to finally break through and get to the NCAA super regionals, but no matter what happens at the end of the month it was just such a great pleasure to watch this team. And that's especially true for the seniors who are finishing up a tremendous run at the top. 

College baseball is nowhere as big as college football and basketball, even in the Ivies. But baseball is still big in America, and when you say the sentence, "Columbia has now won 3 Ivy Baseball championships in a row," every sports fan in America gets that. 

Buddy's Bike

I hope Buddy gets his bike back, but I think I know how he feels. After all, for the 2012-14 Columbia football seasons, someone stole our whole team.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Unhallowed Ground Part 2

Sean Brackett is now playing Arena Football in Las Vegas 

After 10 years playing on what we call hereinafter “Field Turf 1,” I thought it was more appropriate to list the five best and five worst games in Columbia history on that field. Plus, I wanted to note some of the more memorable games that didn’t quite make it into the “Best” or “Worst” categories.

Monday, I selected the 2009 win over Brown as the best game for the Lions on Field Turf 1. Here are the rest of my top 5:

5. Columbia 37 Fordham 7 (2006)

Here's how I covered the game back then, (my game reports used to be epic and took almost as long as the actual game to read).

Almost nine years later, I think the game holds up as a very good one as it ushered in the Norries Wilson era on a such a high note. It was also an absolutely beautiful day.

4. Columbia 34 Cornell 17 (2012)

This is actually the last game Columbia own on that field and the last game Columbia has won anywhere, for that matter. This was the one solid win the Lions had during the entire Pete Mangurian era. His other two wins were by a whisker and relied on more than the usual amount of luck to get done.

As I noted in my game report, the game had two all-time highlights in Marcorus Garrett’s 86-yard TD run and Josh Martin’s bruising hit on Jeff Mathews on a killer sack. But there were so many other highlights on both sides of the ball as everything started to go Columbia’s way early in the 2nd half. It was an astounding display of unrelenting dominance for two quarters.

3. Columbia 35 Brown 28  2 OT  (2011)  

QB Sean Brackett just never gave up on a game that  looked to be over several times before Columbia finally pulled it out. It was an emotional win that saved the Lions from an 0-10 season. It was also Norries Wilson’s last game as CU’s coach.

2. Columbia 42 Princeton 14 (2010)

This was Columbia’s best wire-to-wire performance against an Ivy opponent on Field Turf 1. Brackett threw five TD passes and went 18-of-24 for 273 yards and no picks. Columbia hasn’t beaten Princeton since.

And now, here are the rest of my worst five games on this now-departed turf:

5. Dartmouth 21 Columbia 16 (2012)

This was the game, even more than the 69-0 loss to Harvard two weeks later, that really burst the bubble on the Mangurian regime. My take on this last minute Homecoming loss was anguish at how the basic lessons of protecting a lead were again not being taught by yet another Columbia coaching staff.

A gutty performance by the defense and Marcorus Garrett was wasted and a great Homecoming crowd once again had its hearts broken.

4. Fordham 16 Columbia 9 (2010) This game featured a unusual, (even by Columbia standards), combination of bad breaks and bonehead coaching decisions. WR Mike Stephens was hurt when he was left in the game unnecessarily and a missed PAT changed the entire momentum of the game. The 2010 and 2009 seasons were riddled with games like this.

3. Princeton 27 Columbia 24 (2008)

Another agonizing Homecoming loss that featured another lead-changing TD by an opponent and a turnover on what looked like a winning drive for the Lions. 2008 began with one close loss after another and the team just never found its footing.

2. Penn 27 Columbia 20 (2011)

Another Homecoming disaster and probably the game that sealed Norries Wilson’s fate at Columbia more than any other. Most fans will mostly remember the nauseating sequence when Columbia committed penalty after penalty after getting a 2nd and three at the Penn four. But there were other massive negatives that included blown leads and unnecessary play calls that resulted in turnovers.

Other Memorable Moments

1.       The Snow Bowl

A freak October blizzard hit Baker Field and the game was played in the most brutal conditions probably ever endured at Wien Stadium. Yale pulled out the game, 16-13. Columbia could have easily won, but the Lions simply could not execute as well as the Elis in the key moments.

2.       All Wet, Half a Game

The 2007 game against a very good Yale game was marked by very heavy rain throughout the contest. But the weather wasn’t the reason why Columbia basically outplayed the Elis in the first half. There were just a great number of great defensive plays by Andy Shalbrack and others time after time. But Yale eventually prevailed, 28-7.

3.       Brown Takes the Cup

Seeing more Brown fans at Wien Stadium then you ever see at Brown Stadium was weird, but it made sense as the Bears won 52-7 in this 2005 game to clinch their first-ever unshared Ivy title.

4.       Taking the Coach Out

In Columbia's 24-0 win over Iona, Gaels Head Coach Fred Mariani collapsed from heat stroke before the game and didn’t make it back to the sidelines. Certainly not something you see every day.

5.       Monsoon Win

Another massive rain storm almost marred a 2008 21-13 win over Dartmouth that ended a 13-game Columbia losing streak.

I’ll continue with some more memorable moments on Field Turf 1 tomorrow… 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Un-Hallowed Ground

Shalbrack's TD was the greatest play on Columbia's now-departed Field Turf

Ask me how much fun it is to have to pause before every post to congratulate the baseball team on another big win.

I'm sure you can guess the answer.

I watched the game against Penn this weekend and it was another wonderful display of the fine work Coach Brett Boretti has done with this team. And it is a "team" in every way as evidenced by the fact that there seems to be a different hero every week.

The Ivy League Championship Series begins against Dartmouth this Saturday at noon at home on Robertson Field.

Tearing up the Roots

If you were at the baseball game Saturday, you couldn't help but notice that the work to replace the Field Turf at Wien Stadium is well underway. As I have written a few times, Field Turf has a manufacturer-suggested life of 10 years, so this is necessary... and it's nicely symbolic.Columbia is hoping to rip up a failing program just like they're ripping up the field.

Most of the ten seasons that field witnessed were some of the worst in Columbia history. It's first season was 2005, a year where Columbia went 0-7 in the Ivies and lost just about each of those conference games by blowouts.

A year later, new Head Coach Norries Wilson arrived and the Lions surged to a hopeful 5-5 record. But the promise did not hold and Columbia never hit .500 again on that field. In fact the Lions all-time home record on this now departed field was an embarrassing 17-37. Hey, even if the 10 years weren't up, I'd want to tear this field to shreds!

What were the best and worst games on this field?

I'd have to say the best win was the 28-14 win over Brown to close out the 2009 campaign. Even though the 2009 Lions were 4-6, they were the best Columbia team of the last 15 years. The win over Brown featured a sparking performance by then-freshman QB Sean Brackett and the greatest single play of the last 25 years in Columbia history: the Adam Mehrer pick and lateral to Andy Shalbrack for a TD return as time ran out in the first half.

When it comes to the worst losses, there are all too many blowouts to choose from. But the one that still burns me the most was the 2009 23-22 loss to Yale that featured what seemed like 10 or 11 moments when Columbia seemed determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

And while there were some great times on that field, I say good riddance. The Bagnoli Era has begun and it's time to tear the past away... literally.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Offseason? We're just getting warmed up

Play Ball!

There's a lot of Columbia football and Ivy League Football news to catch up today, but it would be foolish not to start with the big baseball game going on at Baker Field tomorrow.

The excellent Lions baseball team takes on Penn for the second straight year in a one-game playoff for the Gehrig Division title. The quality of play in the four game series between these two teams last week was really several cuts above what you usually see in this league. I can only imagine what it will be like in this winner-take-all nine inning game tomorrow.

Junior George Thanopolous gets the ball on the mound gets the ball on the mound for Columbia, but he'll have all of the CU pitching staff behind him if necessary.  The game starts at 1pm and will be broadcast on ESPN3.

Official Lists Come In

Harvard is the first Ivy to release its official list of incoming football freshmen.

One glaring omission is Boca Raton High School's Elgin Davis, who made big news last week when he publicly announced he had chosen Harvard over a scholarship offer from Georgia Tech. Whether this means Davis is taking a PG year somewhere or he just committed too late to be included in the Harvard press release remains to be seen.

35 Slots for Columbia Next Year

When we add up Columbia's incoming freshmen and transfers list, we'll find out how many newcomers the Lions are getting. I have no idea when our official list will be released.

But I do have an idea that Columbia will be getting a bumper crop of freshmen next year based on new Offensive Line Coach Jon McClaughlin's April 27th Tweet that says that 35 new players will join the Lions in the 2016 recruiting class.

The recruiting process for that next class is well underway and with the kind of recruiters Columbia has now hired on the staff, I feel like a manager sending only his best hitters to the plate over and over again.

Music Service

If you liked that remix of the Door's song "5 to 1" they used in the great spring practice highlight video, you can hear whole remix here.